Locals who rely on Penobscot Bay forge partnership
Searsport — On a chilly and overcast afternoon Thursday, Oct. 4, residents and businesspeople of the Penobscot Bay region met on the Sears Island causeway to introduce a newly formed alliance aimed at cleaning up the local waterway.
Ron Huber, executive director of Penobscot Baywatch, joined forces with people like Sheila Dassatt of Belfast, who heads the Downeast Lobstermen's Association and fishes on the bay with her husband, Mike, and Searsport Shores Campground co-owners Astrig Tanguay to form the fledgling Friends of Penobscot Bay.
"There are thing happening here that affect the other end of the bay, and vice versa," said Huber during the press conference.
Huber said the idea behind forming FOPB was to unify individuals and businesses who all depend on the bay to thrive so those parties may act collectively toward working with area businesses and industry to improve the health of the bay.
In a prepared statement provided to the media Thursday, Tanguay said her campground depends on the tourism industry, which she said is directly linked to the bay.
"Anecdotally, I know that our guests come to Searsport and the region because of the bay — a chance to kayak, hike, sail, pick mussels and eat lobster," she stated. "The state's research backs this up with numbers: The primary purpose of overnight leisure trips is outdoor recreation."
Tanguay went on to say the top four trip activities among Maine visitors are enjoying ocean views, resting and relaxing, outdoor activities (including fishing, sailing, kayaking and hiking) and shopping.
"When those of us who [live] here rely on the bay for sustenance, we must ask why our wild mussel beds and fin fish are at historically low levels," she said. "If we accept that we are all dependent on clean water, let's deal with the petroleum spills, waste dumps and tainted sediments in and around Pen Bay while they may still be manageable."
Dassatt, whose family has deep lobster-fishing roots in the region, said she and other lobster fishermen are working with the University of Maine in an effort to learn more about the shell disease that she said now appears in about one out of every 10 lobsters caught here. The study, said Dassatt, is aimed at learning whether the meat of those affected lobsters is safe to eat, and also to see if water pollution may be adversely impacting the bait used to capture Maine's best-known shellfish.
"Even for the fishermen who are handling the water, we're seeing things that we haven't seen before this year," she said. "Fishermen with open cuts come up with things that aren't healthy."
Specifically, she said, fishermen are developing blistering rashes and skin infections after being exposed to the bay water.
Huber said he hopes that by forming FOPB, all involved will have more resources to accomplish their bay-related goals, and in the end, all Maine residents will be better off.
"We want clean water so that people keep coming here," said Huber. "Someone has to speak for the bay, not just one town or another town."